Susie Dempsey

Susie Dempsey’s three pianos recently returned to her Jacksonville home following the March 19 tornado.


This month seems to be a time of fresh starts and new beginnings in area arts. Susie Dempsey’s three pianos have just returned to her Jacksonville home, waiting for new melodies after the March 19 tornado. A quilt display including an Alabama Bicentennial quilt will open later this month featuring folk stitchery seen publicly for the first time, while newly found recipes listed in The Noble Bank’s Friends and Family Cookbook are waiting to be tried.

The travels of three pianos

Friends and family rejoiced with Susie and Wayne Dempsey as the couple moved back recently into their home after it was rebuilt over nine months, following the March 19 tornado in Jacksonville. Questions about their safety during that difficult time were asked frequently — but followed quickly with “How are your pianos?”

Susie had taught piano at home on two baby grand pianos — a Mason & Hamlin and a 1924 rebuilt Steinway — after she and Wayne retired from teaching at Jacksonville State University. A new upright piano was purchased five years ago with the hope that the couple might downsize their house and keep the smaller instrument for a smaller home.

“It is the best upright I’ve ever played,” Susie said about the newest piano. “But the tornado changed our ‘downsize’ plans.” But the Dempseys feel blessed to be in their house again. The pianos are back in their places, their voices as soothing and lively as ever.

When the storm hit Jacksonville, the two grand pianos were in the studio basement. They were covered with rugs and tarps immediately after the storm. The upright was in the living room on the second floor.

“Luckily, none of the instruments was damaged,” Susie said. “We are thankful, since two of our major roofs were torn off.”

After the tornado, the pianos were moved to safe locations before rebuilding began. The Mason & Hamlin was moved to Jacksonville First Presbyterian Church, where Susie is the church organist. The upright was invited to stay at the home of former JSU trustee Jamie “Red” Etheridge and his wife, Donna. The Steinway was placed in Parker Memorial Baptist Church with the approval of Don Gober, minister of music.

The Mason & Hamlin contributed to one of her former student’s careers, Susie said. The instrument was loaned to David Dempsey (who is now her stepson) during the time Susie studied for her doctorate at the University of South Carolina. David became a piano and mathematics double major at JSU and a student with Susie. He is currently the organist at Jacksonville’s First Methodist Church.

“It’s special that his hands touched the keys so often,” Susie said.

Her hands now touch the keys again. She enjoys each piano again for its unique quality.

The Mason & Hamlin has a rich, full tone throughout all its registers — treble and bass — and is highly rated as one of the best American-made pianos, according to Susie. The vintage Steinway has a brighter tone, and many former students said its action was easier to play than her other grand. The Hailun upright sounds and plays like a grand piano, Susie said.

To friends who even now ask, “How are your pianos?” the Dempseys thankfully answer: “They are as musically alive as ever. They’ve made a real comeback!”

Quilt display opens Feb.23

 The Joy Quilt Guild will show a collection of quilts in the Jacksonville Public Library from Feb. 23 to March 1. Wendell Jensen, president of the guild, will open the exhibit Feb. 23 at 11 a.m. with his talk “Our Quilting Tradition.” The library doors open at 10 a.m. Everyone is invited.

The exhibit will continue Feb. 26-March 1; the library is closed Saturday and Sunday.

As the exhibit’s 50 pieces demonstrate, quilts are far more than bed covers. The embodiment of American (and sometimes European) functional creativity, they resonate deeply with themes on family, individual accomplishments and even politics. Some museums feature studio quilts in geometric and playful color designs as fine art.

The Joy Quilt Guild, 46 members strong, meets in the Jacksonville Public Library once a month.

Recipes for all tastes and diets

The Noble Bank cookbook, available at all the bank’s branches, is in its fifth edition, according to an introductory page written by Anthony Humphries, bank president. “I think it is our best yet,” Humphries writes.

The proceeds of the sale will support local charities. The books are $10 each. Recipes were contributed by Noble Bank employees, their families and friends.

The recipes range from appetizers, breakfasts, desserts and salads to slow cooker, side dish and main dish offerings. More than half of the recipes include the story behind the recipe, according to employee Kayla Peeples.

Favorites include Mexican spaghetti, Crock Pot Vegetable Lasagna, Lafain’s Seafood Salad, Apple Crisp Pizza and Brunswick Stew.

The stew is a Southern culinary favorite, and formulas vary from region to region in the South. It is cooked often for large crowds in large kettles at outdoor fall gatherings such as reunions, according to “Southern Sideboards,” published by the Junior League of Jackson, Miss. Both Brunswick County, Virginia and the city of Brunswick, Ga., lay claim to being the originator of this hearty mixture.

Hervey Folsom writes about the local arts scene every Sunday. Contact her at